Monday, September 17, 2018

Will There Be Alvarez-Golovkin Part III?

When undefeated unified Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin defended his crown against two-division world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in September of last year it had most, if not all the ingredients of a classic. Two top fighters in their respective primes facing off against each other to determine who is the best of the best.

What resulted was not only a great fight where both fighters put it all on the line, but the outcome of that fight and to be more specific, the scoring of the bout created the ideal scenario for a rematch. Although the topic of what the ideal scenarios are that creates justification for a rematch is one that should not be new to longtime readers as yours truly has discussed it several times over the years, there were two elements in regard to Golovkin-Alvarez that stood out clearly.

The most obvious was it was a highly competitive fight where each fighter was able to have points of effectiveness throughout, which may more appropriately be referred to as segments of the fight where opinion was each fighter was more effective than the other. What primary element beyond a great fight more often than not creates demand for a rematch? Controversy.

“Controversy” is a term that can be used to define several things. In combat sports however, there are two ways that often fuels demand for a rematch. A stoppage of a fight by a referee that most feel was either too quick or unwarranted or, the scoring of a fight where the opinions of those who score the fight, the three official judges differ from consensus opinion from both Boxing fans and experts as to who won the fight.  In the case of Golovkin-Alvarez, the controversy stemmed from one official scorecard. The scoring of judge Adalaide Byrd, who saw the fight in favor of Alvarez 118-110 in points or ten rounds to two.

As readers might recall in this observer’s coverage of that fight I stated my opinion that Gennady Golovkin won the fight by a margin of nine rounds to three or 117-111 in points. While my score much like the one Adalaide Byrd turned in would appear lopsided and not an accurate illustration of what a “Great” fight is often thought as, most of the rounds in the fight were close, the definition of “Swing Rounds” where opinion can and often does differ as to who got the upper hand. As a result, it can lead to varying scores ranging from close to wide margins depending on one’s perspective based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense.

Only Adalaide Byrd herself can say what she based her scoring of that fight on, but all I can say is I saw it in Golovkin’s favor. The ultimate result of that encounter, a draw fueled immediate demand for a rematch.

As most readers know, the rematch was not immediate due to a suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) of Alvarez for testing positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol. Although Alvarez has always maintained that the positive test came as a result of his unknowingly eating contaminated meat in his native Mexico, the suspension did cause the cancellation of the rematch with Golovkin, which was originally scheduled for May 5th. While some were of the opinion that the suspension by the NSAC amounted to a slap on the wrist for Alvarez, one of Boxing’s biggest stars, the suspension was indeed within guidelines for what was a first offense.

The circumstances of the suspension as well as Golovkin keeping the May date and successfully defending his crown against a “Game”, but overmatched Vanes Martirosyan, led to bad blood between the fighters and their respective camps. Though all of that could be chronicled in several columns if one was eager enough to write it, the rematch was again signed and took place on September 15th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

Even though it seems like a cliché because it can be applied to virtually all rematches, the main interest is usually to see how the fighters will adapt or change their respective strategies from the first fight. After all, Boxing fans, those of us who cover the sport, and the fighters themselves can review footage of a bout after it takes place and in the case of the fighters and their respective camps, they can see what worked for them and what did not. The ability to study fight films should be a vital part of any fighter’s preparation, but it is a practice that becomes even more crucial prior to a rematch.

In regard to the first encounter between Golovkin and Alvarez, I felt that the champion Golovkin was generally the more aggressive fighter of the two and gradually outworked Alvarez over the course of the fight. Although Alvarez was effective in spots particularly during the first half of the twelve round world championship bout, I felt Golovkin got the upper hand in many of the rounds, which were close and that was the basis that led to my scoring in his favor.

The primary question I had in mind was whether Golovkin would be more aggressive the second time around. In some ways, it appeared that the two fighters switched roles from the first encounter. In contrast to the first fight where he looked to push Alvarez back and apply consistent pressure, the champion opted to begin the rematch by working behind a consistent jab and appeared at least in my eyes to be not only dictating the combat, but appeared to be winning the fight with the success he was able to have working behind the jab.

As was the case in the first fight, Golovkin was very active and appeared to outwork Alvarez in many of the rounds. The challenger however, was effective in picking his spots and landing flush counter punches and appeared for a time to be landing the harder punches of the two in the second encounter. As has been said numerous times by yours truly over the years, when it comes to close fights it will often boil down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria based on the guidelines mentioned earlier in this column. What at times does not get discussed when talking about close fights is the challenge that can be present for judges when scoring fights such as what became two close battles between Golovkin and Alvarez is to distinguish who is more effective in their segments of success as compared to their opponent's segments of success.

Much like the first fight, the rematch saw many close “Swing Rounds” that could be scored either way. The challenge in terms of scoring was to determine who was more effective. Although it was clear to this observer that Golovkin was busier than Alvarez, threw more punches, and landed more punches, there could be some who believe that Alvarez deserved the benefit of doubt in some close rounds based on appearing to do more damage with the punches he threw.

While the subject of how Boxing is scored both on the amateur and professional levels is by no means a perfect science, fights that are fought like this often create differences of opinion simply because neither fighter is able to stand out clearly from the other and thus leaves plenty open to interpretation. Speaking only for myself and how I saw the fight, I was impressed with the technique both fighters displayed in the rematch, but I felt Golovkin's accuracy with his jab and his ability to work well off of it was significant.

The issue for fighters like Gennady Golovkin, who carve out a reputation as a “Knockout Artist” as he had throughout most of his career is people can become accustomed to seeing a fighter implement one approach. This can create a scenario where said fighter with the reputation for being a power puncher may not necessarily receive the credit when they are effective in using a different approach.

While I believed Golovkin deserved the nod for his impressive performance in showing his prowess in choosing to box rather than the seek and destroy style that made him a star, I did wonder if Alvarez’ harder punches, which were attention-grabbing were enough to get the nod of the three people who would ultimately determine the winner if the rematch like it’s predecessor went the distance. The three official judges.

If the conundrum of determining which fighter was more effective during their respective highlights weren’t difficult enough for the official judges as well as observers watching the fight, as the bout entered the late rounds the fight went from a highly competitive Boxing match to a brawl as both fighters gave everything they had and simply left it all in the ring. At the conclusion of the twelve round world championship bout, I arrived with a slightly narrower score compared to the first encounter of 116-112 in points or eight rounds to four in favor of Golovkin.

This was based largely on Golovkin’s success in being able to box with Alvarez as well as how well he worked off of his jab. The jab is a basic weapon in a fighter's arsenal, but if properly executed can be used to score points and win fights. Although one element I expected to see from Golovkin in the rematch was largely absent as was the case in the first encounter, a consistent attack to Alvarez' body, I still felt he did enough to retain his unified world championship.

The reversal of roles from the first fight appeared to benefit Alvarez more. From the outset, the two-division world champion applied consistent pressure. While Alvarez chose to use what works for him by being compact in his approach and picking his spots to let his hands go, the fact that he was more aggressive and applied pressure on the champion is something that leaves an impression on people whether they be a fan, expert, or more importantly the three official judges.

The decision being announced as a narrow majority ruling was not surprising given the action in the fight and the fact that both fighters had success for portions of the bout. As was the case in the first encounter, one official judge Glenn Feldman saw the fight even giving each fighter six rounds or 114-114 in points. This was overruled by judges Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld, who turned in identical scores of 115-113 or seven rounds to five in favor of Saul Alvarez making him the new unified WBA/IBO/WBC Middleweight champion.

Although I felt Golovkin won this fight and had a slightly wider margin than judges Moretti and Weisfeld, which is a one round difference in terms of the final score, I do not feel coming out of this fight a sense of controversy in the sense that there remains a difference of opinion as to who got the upper hand amongst fans, experts, and those of us in media, as was the case following the first fight, but the rematch at least in my eyes appeared closer and as is usually the case when it comes to close fights open to plenty of interpretation. Beyond dethroning a longtime champion of the Middleweight division Saul Alvarez also denied Golovkin a chance at history in attempting to surpass future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins' record for most all-time successful consecutive Middleweight world championship defenses in what was his twenty-first title defense. A distinction that is a bit ironic given that Hopkins' reign atop the division, which lasted over a decade and saw Hopkins unify four of five major world championships in the division also came to an end in his twenty-first title defense when he lost a controversial decision to Jermain Taylor in 2005.

Hopkins was unsuccessful in his attempt to regain his crown later that year when he lost a second decision to Taylor in a rematch. The question that now looms over the story of Gennady Golovkin vs. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is will there be a chapter three?

Shortly after the rematch, this observer conducted a reader poll on Twitter as to whom fans felt won the fight. In a poll that lasted one day in order for results to be included in this column, 59% of those who took part in the poll felt Golovkin won the bout while 22% felt Alvarez did enough to win. The interesting statistic in my mind was 19% of respondents felt the fight was a draw.

What is perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that according to the official scorecards of judges Feldman and Weisfeld, Alvarez won the fight by winning the twelfth and final round. If either Feldman or Weisfeld scored the last round in favor of Golovkin, the rematch would have ended the same way as the first fight, in a draw. With two highly competitive fights seemingly being determined by the narrowest of margins as well as now the former Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin's standing as a longtime champion of the division, it seems logical that a third encounter take place. In this observer's eyes the only question is when, and not if a third fight is signed.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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